How to Help Your Toddler Build Relationships Through Video Calls

Toddlers have very limited attention spans, but there are a few simple ways parents can help them engage with loved ones.
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Published September 25, 2020
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In recent months, due to the coronavirus pandemic, many people have shifted to using video calls as a way to keep in touch with loved ones. However, for young children, it can be hard to grasp the concept—and even harder to sit still long enough to actually interact with grandparents and other family members.

Luckily, parents can keep toddlers engaged and help them build relationships with a few simple tips. Here, Rebecca Parlakian, Senior Director of Programs at ZERO TO THREE shares some of her favorites.

Remember, Not All Technology Is Created Equal

Before getting into the tips, it’s important to clarify that experts say video calls are different from screen time. The American Academy of Pediatrics has noted that FaceTime and other forms of video chat are an exception to their “no technology for those under 18 months” rule. According to Parlakian, video chats are interactive, which is key to early learning and relationship-building. “Your baby babbles at the screen and Grandma smiles in delight or babbles back. It truly is the next best thing to being there,” she tells The Bump.

Make the Call as Interactive as Possible

Having your toddler engage with the call can help them stay on and talk to loved ones for longer than they normally would. Parlakian encourages parents to stay on the call and try rhymes, songs, dances, finger plays and games, such as peek-a-boo and hide-and-seek that toddlers can participate in and enjoy with their screen partner.

“An adult should be present on each end to facilitate. Virtual playdates will definitely still require adult participation,” she says. “Consider providing similar toys on both ends of the call. For example, both children can roll a car both and forth in front of the screen. Or, you might try playing I Spy with items you see in the other person’s background. Making music together—with each child banging pots and singing a song they both know—could also be fun.”

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Similarly, she encourages parents to let their toddler use props, such as puppets and stuffed animals, during the call and have their screen partner mimic it. For example, the screen partner could read one of the child’s favorite books as they follow along with their own copy. Sharing a favorite snack over the call is also a great way to make it interactive, Parlakian adds.

Another way to make it interactive? Relay any gestures from the toddler’s on-screen partner. For example, if the loved one is “tickling” the child or “kissing” them, parents can give a real-life kiss or tickle to help maintain the bond.

Explain Technical Difficulties

Technical difficulties, such as dropped calls and frozen video call screens, can occur often, but younger children may not always understand them. According to Parlakian, trying to explain these happenings in simpler ways can help children better understand technology and their interaction with it. As the children grow older, they can even learn which button to touch to start and end the call.

Keep Your Expectations Realistic

At the end of the day, Parlakian stresses the importance of realistic expectations for video calls with toddlers—especially when talking to friends during virtual playdates. Virtual playdates may not replace the real-world interaction kids have with one another, but they are a great way to keep up newfound friendships.

The important thing to remember, she adds, is that while interactive chats can help engage young children, based on their age, they might just not have a very long attention span—and that’s okay!

“Consider the age of your child…Don’t expect too much or feel disappointed if the chat doesn’t last too long. That’s very typical of the attention span for a toddler,” Parlakian says. While these tips can offer great ways to help your little one maintain important bonds, she adds that parents need to take a deep breath if the call doesn’t go as planned and remember that they are doing the best they can right now.

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